Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hedayati: In Texas death row case, punishment does not fit crime

By Hooman Hedayati - Special to the American-Statesman

Jeff Wood has an appointment he hopes to miss.

On Aug. 24, 2016, at about 6 p.m., the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to inject a lethal dose of pentobarbital into Jeff’s veins to stop his heart as punishment for the 1996 murder of Kris Keeran.

What makes this execution controversial is that everyone, including law enforcement and the prosecution, agrees that Wood, the driver of the getaway car, did not kill Kris Keeran inside a Kerrville convenient store on the morning of January 2, 1996. In fact, Daniel Reneau, the actual and sole killer of Keeran, was executed for his crime on June 13, 2002.

Wood was convicted and sentenced to die under Texas’ arcane felony-murder law, more commonly known as the “the law of parties” — for his role as an accomplice to a killing, which he had no reason to anticipate. Under the law of parties, those who conspire to commit a felony, like a robbery, can be held responsible for a subsequent crime, like murder, if it “should have been anticipated.” The law does not require a finding that the person intended to kill. It only requires that the defendant, charged under the law of parties, was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life. In other words, neglecting to anticipate another actor’s commission of murder in the course of a felony is all that is required to make a Texas defendant death-eligible.

Texas is not the only state that holds co-conspirators responsible for one another’s criminal acts. However, it is one of few states that applies the death sentence to them. There have been only 10 people in the U.S. executed under the law of parties — and five of those 10 executions were in Texas. The last such execution was in 2009, where the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) recommended, with a 5-2 vote, that Robert Thompson’s death sentence be commuted to life. Rick Perry rejected that vote and allowed the execution to proceed. Thompson was executed, even though it was his co-defendant, Sammy Butler, who actually killed the victim. Butler was given a life sentence.
When the convenient store robbery took place, Wood was sitting in a car outside, under the impression that Reneau was going into the store to get “road drinks and munchies.” Although it is true that Wood and Reneau had talked about robbing the store at the behest of the manager, Wood had backed out of the idea. Wood had no idea Reneau was carrying a gun and was going to attempt to rob the store. Wood also claims he was forced to drive Reneau away from the crime scene at gunpoint. Wood’s actions before the murder, namely sitting in a car unarmed and unaware that another person was going to commit a robbery, does not constitute reckless indifference to human life.

Even many supporters of capital punishment agree that the Texas law of parties is wholly unfair. In 2009, the Texas Moratorium Network and Wood’s family led an advocacy campaign to end the death penalty for people convicted under the law of parties. The Republican-controlled Texas House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate after Gov. Perry threatened to veto it. Last year, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence voted again in favor of a bill to exclude the death penalty as punishment in law of parties cases. However, the session ended without an opportunity for a floor vote.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute Wood’s death sentence to life in prison or a lesser term consistent with Wood’s level of participation in the crime. They have made that recommendation in similar cases, including those of Kenneth Foster in 2007 and Robert Thompson in 2009.

Wood might deserve punishment for driving away from the crime scene, but he does not deserve to die. He has never taken a human life with his own hands.

Hedayati is an attorney and a member of the Texas Moratorium Network Board of Directors. For more information visit:

Help Texas Man Set for Execution Under Law of Parties – Jeff Wood Did Not Kill Anyone

terribeenJeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016 under the law of parties even though he did not kill anyone. We need to persuade the Texas governor and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jeff’s death sentence. I have known Jeff’s family for many years. His sister Terri Been is leading the effort to #savejeffwood. She has testified to the Texas Legislature to ban executions under the Law of Parties and spoken out many times to save her brother from an unjust execution.
We created a petition to David G. GutiĆ©rrez, Chair, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott, which says:
“We are petitioning to save Jeff Wood from unjustly being put to death by the state of Texas on August 24, 2016 for a murder he did not commit. Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties. He was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may not have killed anyone, he can still face the death penalty, because of the actions of another person.
The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.”
Four things to do:
1) Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.
 2) You can also donate to the clemency campaign. We have about two months to move the public, the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and we need about $1,000 for the clemency campaign.
3) Attend the rally July 23 at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin.
4) Write a clemency letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Governor Greg Abbott. Send the letters separately to each of their addresses.
David GutiƩrrez, Presiding Officer Board of Pardons and Paroles, Executive Clemency Section 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757
Governor Gregg Abbott, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711-2428
On July 23, we will hold a rally at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.
In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the law of parties. The bill died in the Senate. It will be introduced again in the next legislative session in January 2017.
Jeff’s case is similar to Kenneth Foster’s, whose death sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Rick Perry after many people wrote clemency letters and more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging Perry to commute the death sentence, since Foster had not killed anyone. He was sentenced under the law of parties.
There have been only ten executions in the U.S. of people convicted under law of parties statutes. Five of those people were executed in Texas.
Terri Been wrote on Facebook:
I humbly ask you to help my family by taking a few minutes of your time to read a few facts regarding Jeff’s case and to sign his petition that we will be sending the governor! While you are on Jeff’s Web Page, I also ask that you take an extra minute or two to look at the other information we have in the how you can help section. For those of you who are familiar with Kenneth Foster’s case (which is very similar to Jeff’s case) it took their family over 17,000 messages to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to get his sentence commuted to Life. This was accomplished by sending petitions, faxes, letters, and by making phone calls. I am eternally grateful for every single signature, but I need more. I need calls, letters and faxes to go along with the petition signatures.
I humbly ask that you help my family. Jeff is my baby brother and he did not kill anybody! Please ask yourselves what you would do if you were in my situation. What lengths would you go to if this was your family member?
Short case summary: At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. When hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, and he looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered, at gun point by Reneau, to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway-car.
Sign the petition, please.
Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court applied the proportionality principle to conclude that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.
If it goes to the Court again in the Wood case, they should be asked to find that enough change has occurred in public opinion since 1987 that there is now a national consensus that the death penalty should be banned in law of parties cases.